NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has achieved a remarkable milestone in space communication with its Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) system. Launched on October 5, 2023, DSOC has demonstrated network speeds of 267 Mbps across the vast expanse between Earth and the sun.

The DSOC system was put to the test with NASA’s Psyche spacecraft on December 11, 2023, while en route to the asteroid of the same name for a mining mission. Currently, Psyche is reported to be “healthy and stable” as it journeys toward the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The groundbreaking DSOC technology facilitated the transmission of 15 seconds of 4K video from Earth to Psyche over a distance of 19 million miles—an extraordinary feat considering the immense distance involved. Compared to traditional high-end radio frequency systems, DSOC boasts speeds 10 to 100 times faster, with tested speeds of 267 Mbps at closer range and 25 Mbps from deep space. This significant improvement in bandwidth heralds a new era in interplanetary communication.

NASA further demonstrated the capabilities of DSOC by transmitting demo data over 140 million miles—a distance 1.5 times greater than that between Earth and the sun. A “round trip” test conducted on April 8 involved sending high volumes of engineering data, along with what can only be described as “digital pet photographs” (or perhaps, cat memes), to Psyche and back, covering a total distance of 280 million miles.

Despite its impressive performance, DSOC is not without limitations. Clear skies are required for optimal data transmission, and storms can disrupt the connection entirely. As a result, existing communication systems may need to remain in place for certain flight or safety-critical concerns with future spacecraft. However, NASA is exploring the possibility of setting up multiple ground stations to mitigate these challenges.

Ken Andrews, project flight operations lead at NASA’s JPL, expressed his astonishment at the success of DSOC, stating, “The fact we’re doing this now has surpassed all of our expectations.” Indeed, DSOC represents a quantum leap forward in deep space communication, paving the way for unprecedented exploration and discovery beyond Earth’s orbit.

By Impact Lab